The man credited with the easing of tensions between Taipei and Beijing has confirmed he will stay on after Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou paid him a high-profile visit yesterday and pleaded with him not to resign. Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) chairman Chiang Pin-kung, who dropped a bombshell this week by announcing his resignation, has now agreed to stay on and said he would complete 'the next stage [of negotiation with the mainland]'. This means Mr Chiang will be Taiwan's top envoy in the fourth round of the cross-strait dialogue to be held later this year in Taipei. As late as yesterday morning, Mr Chiang still said he was determined to step down, even though his resignation on Wednesday was turned down by Mr Ma. But the 77-year-old Kuomintang heavyweight had a change of heart after Mr Ma's visit, the first by a Taiwanese president to the foundation, the Taipei-based Central News Agency reported. The report said Mr Ma and Mr Chiang held a five-minute, closed-door meeting. Mr Ma later emerged with Mr Chiang and said he was very satisfied with Mr Chiang's work and could not afford to let him leave. He praised Mr Chiang as Taiwan's 'wise old man' and said he should not fear 'others' slanders'. Mr Chiang said he had had struggled with the decision but had made up his mind to stay on. He said his immediate job was to find a permanent office for the foundation. Mr Chiang was credited with playing a crucial role in the fast improving ties between Taiwan and the mainland. Mainland media reported his decision to stay put last night. Some 6,000 businessmen signed a petition started by Lai Cheng-yi, chairman of Taiwan's Council for Industrial and Commercial Development, urging Mr Chiang to remain in his post. Rumours have circulated over Mr Chiang's son's business interests on the mainland. Mr Chiang's critics say they amount to a conflict of interest. There was also talk that he was unhappy with disagreements within the Kuomintang and the reluctance in some quarters to liberalise ties with the mainland. 'There are many in the opposition who do not want to see positive developments in the relationship between Taiwan and China,' Mr Chiang said earlier. 'They challenge our policies and resort to personal attacks.' But rather than dwell on the negatives, Mr Chiang said he preferred to consider the initiatives he had pushed through with his counterparts in Beijing at the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait. 'We have signed nine agreements in 11 months and this is an important step towards normalising economic exchanges between the two sides,' he said. 'Just as important as the trade and capital investment relations, is the increased understanding that we are seeing ... We are building mutual trust now, and that means it is much easier to exchange views and the meetings are not so rigid any more. We have become friends who are able to say what they want to say.' He dismissed suggestions that the mainland would be the main beneficiary of closer business ties. 'Beijing may still have the political goal of unification, even though they have not mentioned it recently,' he said. 'But Mr Ma is sticking to his policies of no unification, no pushing ahead with independence and no use of force.'